“It’s the topics people shy away from that interest me.”

North London based filmmaker Billy Lumby initially dreamed of being a rockstar, but was “too shy and couldn’t be arsed practicing”. Now he is preparing for his feature film debut.

Text by Chloe Casper
Photography provided by Billy Lumby

Billy Lumby

Words: 1,100
Approx reading time: 6 mins

“What scares me is the idea of not making a few feature films in my lifetime,” worries Billy Lumby. “I’m still at an early stage, so it feels weird to talk about how I’ll handle the move from smaller to bigger budget features, but the best directors seem to be able to navigate that leap without compromising their artistic integrity with commercialism.”

A north London based filmmaker, Billy Lumby initially dreamed of being a rockstar, but was “too shy and couldn’t be arsed practicing”. After falling ill and being left bedridden for months he discovered world cinema; falling in love with the craft after watching the work of the greats, “People like Tarkovsky, Buñuel and Godard.”

“That’s when I got into it. Watching Mulholland Drive at the cinema sealed the deal.”

For his first short film, Suspended Animation, Billy decided to create an abstract sci-fi film about Walt Disney being cryogenically thawed out and his inability to cope with the future. 

“I had a dwarf playing a bastardised Mickey Mouse, and a bodybuilder as Popeye, both of them haunting his cryonic dreams.”

Billy Lumby

Following the success of Suspended Animation, Billy's next project was the short personal drama God View. Longlisted for a BAFTA, God View is not only thought provoking for its portrayal of mental illness but for its technical initiative. The film is shot from above, with the audience watching from the titular God view. 

“The first prototype [for the camera rig],” Billy says, “was me walking around Hackney Central with a handycam on the end of a three metre pole, getting weird looks from everybody. After that I did lens and distance tests on a mockup rig with the director of photography Brett Turnbull, and then experimental filmmaker Tony Hill came on-board to design and build the final version.”

The final version was a bodyrig that the actor then wore. 

“He looked a bit like ED-209 from Robocop.” Billy admits. “It was a very technical shoot followed by a long, gruelling post-production process.”

After making the longlist, Billy then went on the receive a BAFTA nomination for Samuel-613, which follows a Hasidic Jew dealing with a crisis of faith.

“I want to make original films about underrepresented topics, especially ones that have visual, dramatic and cinematic potential. I am interested in social issues and real life stories.” 

As for the recognition from BAFTA, Billy says, “a lot of bad films get nominated for awards. I still feel a long way from achieving my ambitions, but the recognition will hopefully help towards getting the next projects made. For that reason, I was very happy and grateful.”

Billy Lumby

With regards to his next project Billy is fortunate enough to have become part a of mentoring program called Guiding Lights, which he describes as “a scheme for filmmakers at a stage in their career when they’re getting ready to make their first feature film.” 

For the scheme, Billy has been paired up with director Ben Wheatley. 

“It has basically been the opportunity to hang out with Ben a few times,” Billy says. “I ask his advice and hear about how he has made his movies so that I can hopefully avoid some of the pitfalls, either creatively or strategically.” 

Originally recognised after the success of his low budget films such as, Down Terrace, Kill List, Sightseers, and A Field In England, Ben Wheatley's first foray into mainstream cinema, High-Rise, was met with a somewhat lukewarm reception. However, Billy isn't too concerned about his own transition from the independent to the mainstream. 

“Most of my favourite movies are made by writer/directors [and for] less than £10m. Usually a lot less. Writing and developing the story is the most important element of any good film.”

Billy's next project, a feature film, once again dives into the difficult topic of mental illness. This time focusing on schizophrenia. 

“It’s the topics that most people shy away from that really interest me,” Billy says. “If I can’t find a way to represent a subject truthfully, that is a disincentive. 

“But I don’t worry about being disrespectful, only about inauthentically portraying situations. It’s impossible to create an objective film that everyone will love, but if it’s delivered authentically and effectively, at least you can get people talking.”

Text by Chloe Casper
Photography provided by Billy Lumby